Following is the full transcript of technologist Lior Frenkel’s TEDx Talk: Why We Should Rethink Our Relationship With The Smartphone at TEDxBG conference. Lior Frenkel is Co-Founder and CEO of the nuSchool, and the founder of UNDIGITIZE.ME – a social project dealing with Smartphone addiction.
Listen to the MP3 audio and read the transcript: Why we should rethink our relationship with the smartphone by Lior Frenkel @ TEDxBG
Lior Frenkel – Founder, UNDIGITIZE.ME
Just before I start, I’d like all of you to take your smartphones and show it to me, where is it in your hands please, and I will take a picture of that. Because that is what I do every time before I speak.
Okay. Are you ready?
Okay. Thank you. Now please put it the deepest pocket you can.
Okay. I came here today to talk to you about an addiction — one that many of us share but we usually ignore. And I’m speaking about the smartphone addiction.
A year ago, I was working for a start-up. We developed an iPhone application who tried to get you the best videos from all around the web. We wanted to make people entertained and happy and excited during the day. But we also wanted to make some money.
And with you that the best way to make some money is if as many people as possible will use the application for as many minutes a day.
So I signed up for this workshop which was all about how to get people hooked to your app. They showed us how with negative emotions, like being lonely or bored or dissatisfied, you can use them as internal triggers and get people try your app and then stay there for as long as possible.
In the middle of the workshop, something changed in me. I raised my head. I looked around me, and I saw 80 other people sharing the same goal I have: get people hooked to their apps. And I started to feel uncomfortable and that was because, me — I am a smartphone addict myself.
So this is how my mornings used to look like. Waking up, turning off the alarm clock, and then dealing with dozens of notifications: WhatsApp, Facebook, Instagram, email — working email from my boss, my colleagues, et cetera.
And then an hour later I find myself still in bed in my boxer shorts in a very uncomfortable posture. My teeth are not brushed. I didn’t have a shower or coffee yet. What is going on?
So I decided I need to change, and I came up with this project: UNDIGITIZE.ME which is all about raising awareness to smartphone addiction.
I then started to collect some data. I wanted to see if other people have the same problems like I do and I found that indeed they do.
Well, apparently most of us – well, the average user — is checking his smartphone at least 110 times a day. And at Stanford, they found out that three-quarters of the students said they would rather forget their wallet than their iPhone when they go out of the home. And the same around of people said they are falling asleep with their phone.
But it’s not just about me and my phone; it’s also a social thing, right? Pacific Bell Wireless, a big phone company, back in 1999 did a survey. They asked people if they find it rude to use phone in public. More than 90% said they find it really rude to use the phone in restaurants, at the dinner, at the movies, in the classroom – well, where everyone else is.
But now 15 years later, it became so common for people to use the phone around others, we already have a special word for it. It’s called phubbing. It’s when you snub someone who sits next to you or in front of you, or maybe even talking to you by using your phone.
So I wanted to know: Is it a real addiction? Can we call it an addiction? Because you could say this is just a lot of use. Apparently there are some similarities between the smartphone addiction to other addictions.
For example, when a smoker can’t get his cigarette, he feels stressful; he feels anxious. It’s the same for an alcoholic who can’t get his drink. And apparently we feel stressed when we can’t get our phone or when our battery is about to die. You probably know this feeling.
And a research done in Australia among 3000 people under the age of 30 founded that 9 out of every 10 admit to feel this anxiety while having his battery dying.
So I have two amazing nephews. They are three and eight years old. And as a technologist, I loved watching them growing, pinching, scrolling, swiping, hitting the touchscreen, even taking selfies before they knew how to read. But I also couldn’t help to wonder: Is there a cost to it? And apparently there is.
There are multiple studies showing relations between development of kids and things [who] happen to our brain. Apparently overuse of screens can really lead to loss of tissue volume in the gray matter areas in our brains. Specifically in in a place called the front lobe. This is a place where our processing functions happen — things like prioritizing, planning, and everything else we used to call, we need it for get things done.
A different area affected is the insula. This is where the kid is learning how to create empathy and compassion for others. But it’s not just the kids, right?
What about the parents?
So in Boston Medical they went to observe some parents with their kids in fast-food restaurants in the U.S. They watched a lot of families eating dinner together and they saw that so many parents are looking at their phone while dining with their kids. One-third of them was constantly on the phone.
And what happened when a parent glued to his phone was interrupted by a kid — by his kid — usually it was a negative reaction.
I tried to understand: Why are we so addicted? What is going on with us? And I found some more relations. One research found in Harvard Psychology Department is showing the sharing information about ourselves, like we like to do through the smartphone, activates the same part in our brain that is related to pleasure — the same pleasure we get from getting money, eating food or even having sex.
And another thing is our fear to miss out. We’re so afraid we’re missing out so we use the Facebook newsfeed and the Instagram newsfeed and Twitter to see what others are doing.
But actually what we are is we are missing out on the real world on reality. AVG study from the U.S. discovered that 57% of women would rather give up sex than their smartphone for a week. And in the UK, a different study shows that around the same percentage admitted they are checking their smartphones while having sex. Well, this is because women can multitask, right?
Now I also noticed that I don’t daydream anymore. I don’t daydream because in every spare second I’m on my phone, I don’t look out at the window anymore. I don’t sit under the trees. But history is full of high achievers, day dreamers like Albert Einstein or Isaac Newton. And we so love to imagine how Newton sat under the tree or Einstein looked out of the window and this is the moment where they had their best ideas.
And indeed we can see that it has to do a lot with creativity. And daydreaming is not just about creativity; it’s also about our memory.
Research found that in order to store memories into long-term memories, there is a two-step process. In the first step, the brain is taking the new impressions and store it in a temporal place. But then in order to take this and move it to a long-term memory, we need to let our brain rest. And this is what we do when we daydream.
Learning all these studies made me really think I need to make a change. I need to start raise awareness and make people speak about it. So I asked my friends: what are the moments in your life you would rather put your phone down, you would rather put it aside. And then I take few pictures of them. I’ll show you just few examples, doing it with your phone turned down.
After five pictures I took, something overwhelming happened. My email started to fill up with more than 500 photos within two weeks of other people wanting to participate in the campaign and not just from Israel, also from all around the world. Volunteers joined and helped me and we started to get dozens of emails of people telling us amazing stories.
And the best story I would never forget is one that I got from an Australian guy. Not this one. This Australian guy told me how his 14 years old daughter is getting in the room seeing him and his wife looking at the smartphone, totally ignoring him, and she tells them mom, dad, this is so unsocial.
Well, so he decided from then on that in dinner time no one is using the phone for two hours and he wrote me so excited how our campaign really changed him.
The next thing I wanted to do is something about the little kids. So I partnered with a navigator. She is a psychotherapist working with kids to create a book for kids who are addicted to the screens. But it’s not a book that is supposed to scare the kids or tell them to not use the smartphones anymore or any screen. It’s a book to encourage them to go out and look at the world and see how amazing and beautiful the world is out there.
Well, for sure, our biggest event was on last March. That was the day and night of unplugging. A few years ago, there was a new tradition in the U.S. San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, small groups started to celebrate one day of unplugging for a year. For 24 hours we put the smartphone somewhere else and we just enjoy whatever there is.
Shai Netzer, a good friend and a partner in this project decided we must get it to Tel Aviv and make it the biggest event ever. And so we did. For two months we went all over Tel Aviv convincing people to join us but actually we didn’t have to convince. The feedback was so good we had yoga studios, coffee shops and the best bars in Tel Aviv, not allowing people to get with their smartphones inside their businesses that day.
They also missed the time when people really actually used to engage with each other. We learned a lot in the day of unplugging.
24 hours is enough time for someone to get out of the anxiety and really start to connect back to real life. But I must say if you think I’m against technology or against the smartphone, you didn’t get me right.
The smartphone is an amazing device. It’s a magical device. I’m in love with it, not just as a device also as a technologist. And there are also amazing applications that are really positive. They can help me grow habits like a diet, meditation, running, and so on. And it’s doing so much good to science.
But having said that we still know that the changes we’ve seen in the last few years are nothing compared to what we are going to face in the next decade or two. We’re facing Google Glass get starting to get really commercial, now cooperating with the popular eyewear brand Ray-Ban.
And Google has a patent pending which is that for a contact lens you can really use by blinking. And what about wearable technology? Clothes, watches — this is the big trend.
So eventually technology will be embedded in our physical bodies, and our future can be even more hectic and less relaxed than what we do today — unless we make a change.
And I do not want to speak about unplugging, I want to speak about a diet. Some apps remind me junk food but other applications are like healthy organic food. And just like we became aware to what we eat, we need to become aware to what and how much we consume.
The Western world saw many cases of diabetes and then we decided to start educating our kids and ourselves about sugar balance, right? So why can’t we do it for the digital diet? And it’s up to me and you to start thinking about it and understand how this digital diet is about to look like.
So let’s start doing today.